Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba talk 'Chico & Rita'

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The directorial team talk about how they filtered the history of modern jazz into a globe-trotting romance

Javier Mariscal, 60, is a famed, Barcelona-based graphic artist and designer whose work ranges from painting and sculpture to design. Fernando Trueba (above right), 55, is a Madrid-based writer and director with a sideline in music production who won an Oscar for his 1992 film ‘Belle Époque’. The pair have collaborated on the animated film ‘Chico & Rita’ which tells of a love affair between two jazz musicians.

When did you two meet?
Javier Mariscal: ‘We are very good friends. I love Fernando’s work. I did the posters for one of his earlier films, “Calle 54”, in 2000.’
Fernando Trueba: ‘When we first met and became friends, he was doing art, I was producing records.’

When did you decide to collaborate on a film?
FT: ‘We wanted to do something together. He’s a painter, I’m a director, we thought that an animated movie would be perfect.’
JM: ‘He saw a little animation I made set on the streets of Havana.’
FT: ‘I thought: Eureka! Let’s make a movie and set it in Havana.’

How did you decide when to set it?
JM: ‘He said, we have to do it in 1948. We love all the Chevrolets and old advertisements.’
FT: ‘1948 was the first year of the fusion between jazz and Cuban music: Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo.’
JM: ‘Everywhere in the US and Europe people were dancing to cha cha and mambo. There was a big explosion of Cuban music. When we had the script, Fernando’s job was to tell the story and work in the music, and my job was to try to develop a complementary visual style.’

The film takes place in New York and Las Vegas also. How did you capture the essences of these cities?
JM: ‘I visited Vegas in the late 1970s and only went with the intention of producing some drawings and taking some pictures of the landscape. After three days, the police stop me and say, “Hey, what’s happening? Why aren’t you gambling? Are you a Russian spy or something?”

‘New York is the city of everybody, the capital of the world, and when I arrived there in the early 1980s, I felt like I knew it all from the movies.’

What research did you do?
FT: ‘Movies, photographs, books, family albums, interviews. He had an entire wall of books in his studio just about Havana and New York.

‘We watched a hell of a lot. Cuban documentaries about the period, about rumba, about The Palladium. Even British films like “Our Man in Havana”(1959), because the exteriors were shot on location.’

You’ve re-recorded all the music we hear in the film.
FT: ‘It meant we had to ask: who can play Ben Webster? Who can play Dizzy? Who can play the congas in the old style of Chano Pozo? In this sense, we were using musicians as actors. Usually, you shouldn’t do this to a musician, as a musician’s sole desire is to sound like themselves. But for a movie like this, it was fun for them to act like another musician.’

Was it easy to get musicians on board?
FT:
‘Yes, it was very easy.’
JM: ‘Fernando knows them all!’
FT: ‘The only problem we had was with the people we didn’t ask to be in the movie!’



Read our review of 'Chico & Rita'

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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